I forgot to mention why I liked what Steve Benjamin’s campaign manager said the other night. If you’ll recall, Joey Opperman was talking about how he had been thinking of striking out in search of new and exciting adventures, and Steve said to him:
You need to stay here and help these people that God has put you among.
There’s an excellent theological point there.
Many people, especially young people, are constantly thinking that their real life is somewhere else, and that they are TDY in their present location. That real life will start once they get to where they really should be, which isn’t where they are.
This has all sorts of manifestations, from the silly to the globally significant.
For instance, for many years as an editor I had to fight the desire of some of my brightest and most energetic reporters to go off to New York or Washington, an impulse that I always regarded as rather shallow and silly. And I would work on their consciences (usually with some success, but not always), telling them that yes, they were good at their jobs, and could probably “make it” in those other places. But — and this is a huge “but” — they are not needed in those places. They were needed where they were. Jackson, TN (which one former subordinate and good friend who is now with The New York Times complained about by saying, “It’s not the heat; it’s the stupidity”), or South Carolina had a far, far greater need for the blessings that their talents could bring than those other venues, where they would just be one in a multitude of talented people, patting themselves on the backs in empty congratulation that they were where they were.
And globally — well, the Palestinians would have been a whole lot better off if they had gone ahead and made new lives for themselves in exile (either on the West Bank or elsewhere in their own diaspora) rather than living for three or four generations in refugee camps nursing their resentment over not being where they want to be. I’m sure there are other examples, but that one just leaps to mind.
For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.
As wonderful as that message is, I also love the part that went just before it:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses to dwell in; plant gardens, and eat their fruits.
Take wives and beget sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. There you must increase in number, not decrease.
Promote the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare depends your own.
Thus says the LORD: Only after seventy years have elapsed for Babylon will I visit you and fulfill for you my promise to bring you back to this place.
Basically, God was telling the Israelites to stop mooning over Jerusalem and engage life fully where they were — not only that, but to be good communitarians and advance the interests of the place where they were, even though it was alien to them.
That, too, had a lot of meaning for me — meaning that I am just beginning to figure out. For nine months now, I’ve sort of been in limbo while I waited to find a job. (And I don’t mean “waited” as in passively. I’ve been actively looking. But you know, you apply, and you interview, and you wait…) My life would resume at that point, I thought. But now that I’m finally getting around to figuring out the world of freelancing and consulting work, I’m actually enjoying it, and seeing new possibilities. And I realize that if I had understood how to get into this from the beginning, and had embraced my jobless state as a new kind of existence that could actually be fun and interesting and challenging, I would have made a lot of money over the last few months, and my severance would have lasted a lot longer. (In fact, if I could figure out the problem of medical coverage — something Congress is essentially refusing to deal with — I could be happy and thrive in this state.)
Stand in the place where you are. It’s a great attitude toward life. It’s best for you, and for those around you. And I actually think it’s God’s will.
Consider that to be my little contribution to your Advent contemplations.
Now, it occurs to me that we could study some of these same phenomena in the light of a related lyric, “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…”